Having strong interpersonal skills and real-world experience sets the stage for success, David Der Hagopian (MBA ’76) told students in Professor Suzyn Ornstein’s Entrepreneurial Skills class.
Der Hagopian is the CEO of Ravago Holdings Americas, a company that distributes about four billion pounds of plastic in the Americas per year. He has been in the plastic industry since 1973, when he started off as a plastics purchaser for the Gillette Company in South Boston.
Early on in his career, Der Hagopian knew he wanted to start his own business, but he also knew he needed industry experience first. “There’s no substitute for experience because you have to learn from your mistakes,” he said, adding “I could never have gone from the classroom into starting a business.”
After working at Gillette, Der Hagopian spent 10 years at Celanese Plastics, where he held various sales, marketing, and business management positions. With a strong interest in global business, Der Hagopian also spent three years with Celanese International Corporation.
During his time at Celanese, Der Hagopian traveled the world and established many professional relationships abroad. “You can never have too many friends. I never underestimate the value of knowing people,” he said. “If you’re in the industry, and I think I might be able to learn something from you, I call you back.”
While traveling in China for Celanese, Der Hagopian met a veteran of the plastics industry who later played a key role in his career. Der Hagopian made a point to stay in touch with him, and five years later, received his financial support to start a plastic resin distributing company called Entec Polymers.
Over the years, Entec grew to become one of America’s leading resin suppliers, with 1,100 employees, 17 warehouses, and several logistic centers throughout the country. He merged the firm with Ravago of Belgium several years ago.
To lead a successful business like Entec, it is important to hire the right people, Der Hagopian said. He ensures that all of his employees share one common, essential characteristic– they have very strong interpersonal skills. “It’s probably the single most important trait, in my opinion, for a successful business person to have,” he said.
It is also essential for leaders to know their strengths and weaknesses. “If you know what you don’t know, it’s very easy to learn,” he said. Since Der Hagopian is aware of his weaknesses, he is able to hire people who can fill in the gaps and offer new skills.
He also promotes innovation in the workplace. As an entrepreneur and successful business leader, it is important to “surround yourself with people who are creative and innovative,” he said. The people who are the most successful are those who are always looking for a better way to do something, he added.
“We’re delighted to have David return to Suffolk and share his entrepreneurial experiences with our students. His practical insights and personal experiences will make them successful entrepreneurs,” said Dean William J. O'Neill, Jr., Sawyer Business School.